Gary James' Interview With Jason Tosta Of
The Doors Tribute
Like his idol Jim Morrison, Jason Tosta has a love of film. So much of a love that like Morrison, he too received a Bachelors Degree in film from S.D.S.U. Then it only follows that Jason Tosta would portray Jim Morrison in a Doors tribute group, which is exactly what he does! Jason spoke with us about his band Strange Days: A Tribute To The Doors.
Q - Jason, you were haunted by The Doors from a very early age. What exactly does that mean?
A - Well, when I was 8 years old, my mother had the "L.A. Woman" album and I used to hear her listening to it. I was just transfixed by just the darkness. There were some happy songs and in a way they were kind of dark. I just found myself haunted by just the way it was coming into my ears and sitting with me. Even at that age it drove me to start searching out and listening to music.
Q - Were you listening closely to the lyrics as well?
A - To be honest, it was a lot about the keyboard sound. I'd never heard a band like that without a bass player. It was a very odd sound for a band to sound like that. I was also transfixed by the tone of his voice and with the way he was delivering the lyrics. I think they were a little over my head at that age, but I just knew. I'd never even seen him. This is just strictly listening and I knew I had to know more about it. I don't think anyone still writes lyrics like that.
Q - No, they don't. Growing up, did someone say, "Hey Jason, you kind of look like Jim Morrison"?
A - It was more the voice. I used to get that a lot when I was in high school. "Hey! You should get a Doors tribute band together" or a Doors band together. "You should do Doors music." A lot of bands I played in early on, people were very much like, "Wow! I always wondered what it would sound like if Jim Morrison sang that song." There was a lot of that. But only after I got into this band did I think, once I was in the outfit, "Wow, this isn't bad!" (laughs)
Q - What song were these people referring to? Any idea? Do you remember?
A - I'm pretty sure we did "Come Together" by The Beatles. That's probably one of the ones that was in the set. I wanted to do a Doors tribute band from when I was 18. I didn't know about tribute bands back then, but basically I wanted to do it. I never had the right personnel. It took meeting these guys to get it to go and it's really been taking off actually.
Q - Did the guys you're now with have a Doors tribute act already in place?
A - Yeah. It's a pretty funny story actually. What happened is, they were a together band and then they put an ad out on Craig's List, looking for a temporary singer to keep them sharp while their singer was out of town. So, I answered it as well as several other people. I almost didn't get a chance because the people that had come before me were so bad that they decided they didn't even want to have the practices. They thought it was a waste of time. They (the temporary singers) didn't know the lyrics. They were weird. They weren't good. So, when they told me, "You're the last one, you should bring the lyrics with you," I said, "I don't need them. I know the songs." "That's what everybody says. Bring the lyrics." Okay, I didn't bring the lyrics. When I came, we did like an hour and a half and I did 'em all with 'em. I'd say about 30 minutes after we were done, I got a phone call, "You want to be in the band?" (laughs) They kicked the other guy out. From that point forward, we started playing shows. They had some tribute experience before me. Our guitar player and keyboard player actually played Doors material previously for five to ten years. They broke off from what they were doing before to make a better machine and that's where this band came along. We've really picked up and taken off. We've played seven states and internationally in Mexico. We're at about 150 gigs right now.
Q - That's spread over how many years?
A - I'd say abut 3 1/2 years.
Q - So, you're performing once a month then?
A - It probably averages out to about once a month, but there's some months we play every weekend. I would say it's a little more than once a month. We probably average about 30 gigs a year, 35 gigs a year. So it'd probably be twice a month. And of course those gigs go from small, opening gigs to headlining gigs.
Q - The name of the band has always been Strange Days?
A - Yes. The guitar player is actually the one that named the band. He liked the idea that beyond The Doors' songs it was kind of a commentary on today, of the strange days we're in.
Q - I once saw a Doors tribute act where the guy playing Morrison actually resembled Mick Jagger.
A - A lot of Doors tributes, they seem to be about a singer with some guys behind them. It seems like the singer is the kind of catalyst to the band. Everyone else is kind of like a hired gun behind them. So, a lot of times you might say, "Why is that guy doing a Doors tribute?" Probably because he's a gigantic Doors fan and really wanted to do Jim Morrison and he got some guys together and they're doing this band. We're not like that. All four of us in the band, it's a band. Our guitar player is kind of like the financial person in the band. I'm kind of like the advertising / marketing guy. Our keyboard player handles getting some shows together. So, we're like a band. We're proud that we're like a band in some ways like they were a band. Not just a guy in front of some plain clothes other guys.
Q - One other thing I've noticed in Doors tribute acts is you'll hear a guy that bears a resemblance to Morrison and Manzarek, but little attention is paid to how the guys portraying John Densmore and Robby Krieger look.
A - We do only what we can do in terms of our natural look, but we've all had custom made clothing. Our guitar player plays a Gibson SG 50th Anniversary Robby Krieger Edition with pretty much a lot of what he used to do in terms of effects, in terms of his amp. Our keyboard player has a Vox Continental that's been modified so he can use it to play different sounds. There's basically a synthesizer inside of it. Same thing with the Fender Rhodes bass that sits on top. So basically this allows him to play every Doors' song like it sounded on the album. Most Doors tributes say "We are the 'live' Doors' sound," but when they get into their later stuff, it would sound really weird to play, like "Riders On The Storm" on a Vox. It wouldn't sound like "Riders On The Storm" to play it on a Gibson 101. I think we're the only Doors tribute band that actually gives you the 'live' look, but the studio album sound. I think as we get further away from the '60s, younger people, especially now, they want to hear what they know. We still do the bootleg stuff. I'll do raps like Jim used to do. We'll do these little musical interludes in the middle of songs like they would 'live'. When you hear "Riders On The Storm" with us, you know it's "Riders On The Storm". (laughs) It's important. We're not in this for the money. There's not a load of money in this. I'm in this because I'm a life-long Doors fan and I think music has taken a big nose dive. I feel in a way we're missionaries, not in a religious way, trying to keep people remembering what real music is. I can't tell you how many times we'll play a show at a club, finish and before we even put the instruments down, there's this thumping, modern dance music going on. I'm thinking they missed the point. (laughs) So we like to think of it as we're just trying to spread the word and keep The Doors in people's minds and hopefully they'll see our shows, go buy some Doors stuff on i-Tunes or buy their CDs or videos and remember.
Q - It looks like you guys have performed in quite a few big venues, like theatres.
A - We've played several, yeah.
Q - If you don't sell out, it's probably close to it.
A - We do well. We do very well. A lot of it has to do with we commit a hundred percent to really putting the word out and trying to make people understand there's been a lot of Doors tribute bands out there; excellent, amazing and okay. We want people to understand we take it seriously and you're gonna see a show. People are very receptive. When we're done, the response is kind of mind-blowing. People want to come up. They want to take pictures. They want to tell you stories about how they saw The Doors. That's one of the best parts of this tribute, people walking up, elderly people, saying, "I saw 'em." What I do is I'll give 'em a test. I'll say, "When did you see 'em?" They'll give me a date. I kind of memorized The Doors' concert dates, so I'll know if someone's giving me the right date or a wrong date. If they give me a date I know, I'll say, "I know that show." I'll ask 'em how it was. To hear them tell me, it blows my mind talking to somebody who saw them 'live', 'cause I never had the chance.